BONUS: Learn More about Electric Youth’s ‘Breathing’

So you’ve already read the good-sized profile on Electric Youth — the one that covers some of their work on Breathing, talks about their new album, and postulates about what makes their music so compelling to the very fabric of your being.

Now here’s the bonus Q&A that covers more territory about Breathing, along with an anecdote about recording the haunting title cue.

electric youth breathing
Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth. Photo by Anthony Scott Burns, who was the director of the lost film.

A Brief Q&A

Vehlinggo: Breathing, released in September on Milan Records, exists in a different space than originally intended for its music. As a soundtrack without a film, is it different from when it was a soundtrack for and with a film? I figure that without the picture, you’re free to create your own narrative. 

Austin Garrick: It is different, but not much different than what it would have been with the film. Once we decided with our soundtrack label, Milan Records, that we would still put out the soundtrack, it not being attached to the film anymore did give us further freedom to include or exclude any of the material from the score on it, without disappointing anyone.

What I mean is, like most people who listen to soundtracks, I’ve had experiences where I hear a piece of music in a film that I love but then I’m disappointed to find it’s not on the soundtrack. With future film scores of ours, we want to do our best to ensure the soundtrack release is inclusive of all the music people would want from the film.

But in this case, since the soundtrack release became detached from the film, it wasn’t something we had to concern ourselves with and we could just focus on what would be best for the listening experience. For the most part, we ended up leaving out some of the real horror cues, some of the music that would have soundtracked the dread and fear in the film, because it felt unjustified without the context of the film.

I’ve noticed the vinyl edition has fewer tracks than its digital counterpart — probably for practical purposes. How did you decide which to include in the vinyl version?

AG: That was as much a “listening experience” decision as it was a practical decision. Way back when vinyl was the primary listening format, album lengths were usually kept around 44 minutes or less, so that they would fit onto one disc and split nicely between two sides, which typically have a max run time around 22 minutes each. Any longer than that on one side and you start to compromise sound quality. And if an album was long enough to be four full sides, then it was, of course, two discs.

But what we find with a lot of modern albums we love, they haven’t been made with the length of a vinyl side in mind. So, unfortunately, you end up with vinyl versions that are too long to fit on one disc, but still too short to properly fill two discs…. These two-disc releases stretched over four sides, that you have to flip the side on every few songs, really disrupt the listening experience. Even for albums we love, we rarely go back to the vinyl version if it’s that way.

So we made the decision, for the sake of the listening experience, to make the vinyl version of [Breathing] something you only have to flip once to listen through.

In the case of this vinyl release, we omitted some of the reprises and stuck to the tracks we felt would be most potent for the classic vinyl listening experience of two sides. And there are a few little things different with the vinyl versions of some of the tracks, too, which make the listening experience unique from the digital and CD version.

Once we noticed similar things had been done for the vinyl versions of some of our favorite scores — like Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score for example, which was trimmed down from the digital version to fit on two discs for vinyl — we felt at liberty to do the same. And we took similar considerations when we made Innerworld. The standard edition of that album fits perfectly onto two vinyl sides.

Electric Youth in the studio during the sessions for songs that would becoming 'Breathing.' Photo by Howard Gordon.
Electric Youth in the studio during the sessions for songs that would become ‘Breathing.’ Photo by Howard Gordon.

How does writing for a score differ from writing for an album? 

Bronwyn Griffin: We worked a lot of the material around the theme, “This Was Our House.” That theme came to Austin almost immediately after reading the script, so he recorded a rough demo of it on piano. The director liked the sound of the piano so much, we ended up using the original recording. [We and the director] liked the rawness, the naïveté of it, then we built the rest of the production, and recorded the string section around it later.

AG: … For us, one of the main ways writing for an album differs from a score is that making music for film allows for a canvas that stretches beyond, and demands something more than just a traditional pop song structure. Because, for our studio albums, we’ll always be focused around creating pop songs, that’s what we like best in that context.

But our soundtracks will probably always go beyond that, into territory that’s both more experimental and more traditional than we’d be interested in on one of our albums. Plus it’s a different sort of challenge, as far as the fact that when we’re working on an album, we’re working to serve our own vision. Whereas on a film, we’re working to serve someone else’s story and vision and they’re the boss, which is still just as rewarding when the final product is something great.

Whether a studio album or a film score, though, at the end of the day, for us, it comes back to creating from a place of true emotion; to end up with music that resonates.

Cover art and vinyl record presentation for Electric Youth - Breathing. Courtesy of Milan Records.

Can we talk about the exquisite album art for Breathing? Who did it and how’d you find them? 

BG: We owe thanks to JC from Milan Records for introducing us to the very talented artists at AllCity Media. They’re a film art company that’s done design work for Nic Refn’s The Neon Demon and The Wicked Die Young projects; LaLa Land; It Followsand countless others.

We had an initial phone call with AllCity where we talked about the film’s plot and characters and some references we were interested in exploring, and they took it from there. AllCity’s artists were people we knew we could trust instantly: based on their past work, and more importantly, the creative input they gave right off the top.

AG: In the soundtrack world, you end up getting the opportunity to work with creatives that specialize in film music that you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to work with on a studio album. AllCity was a great example of that on the visual side. The work they’ve done for film campaigns is really stellar.

Then on the audio side, it was also an honor to work with the great film score mastering engineer Patricia Sullivan, who’s put the finishing sonic touch on so many of our favorite soundtracks over the years, from Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy, to Hans Zimmer’s Inception to countless others from John Williams, Danny Elfman, and so many others. It was really great to have her magic touch on this score.

(Note: This interview was edited for clarity and house style.)

‘It Becomes Unpredictable If You Press Stop’

Composing a film score clearly allowed Garrick and Griffin to stretch their creativity beyond the confines of their expertly crafted pop songs, as established in the accompanying big interview. In addition to the aforementioned experiences, there was an interesting turn involving one of those vintage synthesizers that, pardon the hyperbole, dies when you look at it the wrong way but is nevertheless a machine you keep around because it sounds great.

Filmmakers shot some of the interior shots for the erstwhile iteration of the film in Toronto in a location five minutes away from Electric Youth’s local studio. This was convenient, allowing Griffin and Garrick to easily go back and forth as they crafted the music.

One day, fresh off on-set inspiration, Garrick returned to the studio for a lunch break, during which he got started on the cue “Breathing.” He kicked off the arpeggio melody that repeats throughout the piece and made sure it didn’t stop.

“I did it using the primitive built-in arpeggiator on one of our old synths, where you can program a sequence of notes that it then loops and you can modify the sound while it loops,” Garrick said. “But it becomes unpredictable if you press ‘stop’ on it, so you have to let it keep playing until you’re done recording what you want to do with it.”

He wanted to return to the set before lunch ended to get a better idea of the scene for which he was composing, but he hadn’t yet recorded the arps. So he just had to leave it running in order to keep the sound as he had programmed it. The arpeggiator repeated the four-note loop for hours.

“…Later, I went back to the studio, the synth was still playing the arpeggio and I was able to finish the cue with the tactile experience of being on-set fresh in my mind,” Garrick said. “That way of working created a certain kind of connection between the score and the film as it was being shot, that you don’t really get if you start on the music later in the process.”

Need to return to the big interview with Electric Youth?

There’s even more to learn about Electric Youth, though. After all, they were a crucial source for Vehlinggo’s feature on the fifth anniversary of Drive. Check it out.

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